Oatman Arizona Overview
Cruising down Historic Route 66? Don’t miss this unique historical stop that is a “living ghost town” with reenacted gunfights in the street, wild burros roaming the town, and packed with lots of history! Over 500,000 people visit a year to immerse themselves in the “Old West” feel. While that is a lot of people each month, I have never felt that the area was overcrowded but I normally head there early in the morning. Be sure to check the schedule of events as they do close the street down for a few hours for the shootouts in the street by the local gunslingers.
In 1915 two prospectors struck it rich when they found $10 million worth of gold and the small mining town was established. In its heyday, a total of 40 million dollars worth of gold was mined (2.6 billion in today’s dollars), and the town had two banks, 20 saloons, a newspaper – the Oatman Miner, a post office, and 10 merchant stores.
The name Oatman comes from the young Illinois girl who was captured and enslaved by an unknown tribe after her family was massacred, her name was Olive Oatman.
Located in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona, Oatman is in northwest Arizona, about two hours southeast of Las Vegas. Nearby cities include Bullhead City, AZ (28 miles away), Kingman, AZ (29 miles away), Needles, CA (22 miles away), and Lake Havasu City, AZ (54.2 miles away).
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- 1863 – Prospector Johnny Moss discovered gold in the Black Mountains and staked several claims, one named the Moss after himself and another after Olive Oatman, whose story was well known
- 1902 – The Durlin Hotel (later called the Oatman Hotel) was constructed by John Durlin
- 1908 – $13 million dollars in gold found
- 1915 – $14 million dollars in gold found
- 1921 – A fire swept through the town and burned down many of Oatman’s smaller buildings but spared the Oatman Hotel
- 1924 – The town’s main employer, United Eastern Mines, permanently shut down its operations after producing US$13,600,000 (equivalent to $215,038,447 in 2021) worth of gold
- 1924 – The Durlin Hotel rebuilt after the fire
- 1926 – 1952 – The Mother Road coursed through the heart of Oatman, sustaining a healthy tourism business
- 1941 – The government ordered the closing of Oatman’s remaining mining operations as part of the country’s war efforts
- Late 1960s – The Durlin Hotel changed its name to the Oatman Hotel
- August 25, 1983 – The Oatman Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983
- 1995 – The Gold Road mine was reopened, taking out 40,000 ounces of gold annually
- 1998 – The mine closed again because of low gold prices. it then provided gold mine tours for several years; however more recently, with the current price of gold, the tours have ceased as the mine has reopened once again.
The population of Oatman Arizona
Oatman went from a tiny tent village to a population of more than 3,500 within a year once gold was discovered, between 1920-1930 it grew to around 10,000 but today it is just over 100 residents.
How to Get to Oatman Arizona
Depending on your starting point, there are several ways to get to Oatman, Arizona. My favorite way is the back roads from Laughlin to Oatman!
Be warned, for those of you who pull trailers and campers that the back rounds can be narrow and winding in place, and “the recommended hauling length” is 40′ (especially if you are taking the road from Kingman to Oatman, which is very narrow with a few sharp hairpin curves and trailers over 40′ are NOT allowed on this road). Be warned, if you are traveling with a trailer, parking is hard to find for oversized vehicles and trailers.
- Needles, California – 22 miles / 31 minutes
- Kingman, Arizona – 28 miles / 50 minutes
- Laughlin, Nevada – 30 miles / 47 minutes
- Las Vegas, Nevada – 126 miles / 2 hours 10 minutes
One of my FAVORITE road trip planning websites/mobile apps is RoadTrippers. Check out their website, download the app, and start exploring! (Use the Road Trippers promo code BTR5QTP and save $5 when you sign up!)
Best Time of Year to Visit Oatman Arizona
IMO, the best time to visit Oatman is Fall through Spring to avoid the scorching 100-degree-plus days of the summer.
October averages in the mid-80s, while November has highs in the 60s, and December and January average in the high 50s. March and April are lovely in the desert, with average highs in the 70s and 80s.
Places to Stay
While there is a hotel in Oatman, it is no longer used for overnight stays.
I normally stay in Laughlin, Nevada, and take the backroads to Oatman when I visit. Depending on the time of year, the rooms can be INSANELY cheap!
Other nearby towns have accommodations and amenities such as Kingman, Arizona, or Needles, California.
Durlin Hotel – Oatman Hotel
Originally called the Durlin after its builder, John Durlin, the eight-room hotel is currently known as the Oatman Hotel and is the only historic two-story adobe building in Mohave County, Arizona. When it was still operating as a hotel, many exciting people and events happened throughout its history such as it being the hotel of choice to not only miners but to movie stars and politicians. The town has been used multiple times as a movie set such as Edge of Eternity, Foxfire, and How the West Was Won.
The hotel is no longer runs as a hotel that accepts overnight guests. Instead, the upper floor has been converted into a museum and the downstairs offers a restaurant, bar, and ice cream shop. Patrons have placed one-dollar bills that are signed and dated on the saloon’s walls and ceiling for decades, a tradition that was started by the local miners and continues today.
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Part of the museum is a set featuring the Clark Gable/Carole Lombard honeymoon suite after their wedding in Kingman, Arizona on Marcy 18, 1939. The honeymoon suite is still one of the Oatman Hotel’s main attractions with a replica of Lombard’s blue wedding dress displayed on the bed, and the owners report that Gable and Lombard loved the hotel so much that they are still haunting it. Reportedly, Gable would often return to the solitude of the desert and play poker with the local miners.
William Ray “Oatie” Flour. You can’t have a ghost town without a haunted hotel… right? Hotel employees, guests, and locals claim that “Oatie” the ghost of an Irish miner, William Ray Flour, who died at the hotel occupies the hotel and can be heard whispering, laughing in the empty rooms, playing bagpipes, and wandering in the corridors of the old hotel at night. Reportedly his family died on the journey to America to visit him and once he found out he turned to alcohol to cope with his grief. One night in the 1930s, Flour passed out behind the Durlin hotel and never woke up. Flour was hastily buried nearby and details are vague on the actual account of what happened as I have found he just passed out outside to he fell in a mine shaft behind the hotel. I have searched Ancestry and cannot find any vital records for William.
Places to Eat
- Oatman Hotel has a small bar and restaurant on the first floor for lunch and dinner. They sometimes have live music.
- Olive Oatman Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Home of the Wild West Buffalo burger and their signature Burro Ears.
- Judy’s Saloon serves lunch and dinner in a pub-style setting.
Many stores sell various snacks and a yummy old-fashioned candy store with everything from chocolates to prickly pear candy. A few warnings… the burros will try to encourage you to share and if it’s hot, the candy will melt (so eat it at the store – haha!).
Oatman Wild West Shootout
Along with a haunted hotel in this ghost town, you have a Wild West Shootout in the streets of Oatman! Don’t miss the Oatman Ghost Rider Gunfighters along with the Red Ridge Marauders, Oatman’s oldest Gunfighter organization. The gunfighters take to the streets at about noon and 2:00 on weekdays. They have about four gunfights, starting at noon on the weekends.
Show Times may vary due to weather or special events and crowd permitting.
Oatman Arizona Burros
Burros… over 2,000. Residents… over 100. Burros WIN!
Click here to learn more about Wild Burros and see photos of them in the wild.
Wandering the streets of Oatman you will find many wild burros, with most being “tame.” With that said, it doesn’t mean you should let your guard down as they are still “wild animals” and can be unpredictable with biting and possibly kicking.
The Oatman “wild” burros are descendants of “beasts of burden” shipped in by the miners in the late 1800s. The burros were used inside the turn-of-the-century mines for out heavy loads of various rocks and were also used outside the mines for hauling water and supplies. Once the mines were closed and the miners no longer needed them, they were turned loose into the wild to fend for themselves.
In the mornings they will wander into town looking for food because that is what they are used to – they know the tourists are buying bags of food aka Burro Chow, from the local shops to hand feed them. Be warned that if you are eating anything they nudge you as they want everything to eat!
The first person to spot a new baby burro dashes to the town bulletin board to post a public notice, and the whole town gets to choose a name for the new foal!
DO NOT FEED THE BABIES! DO NOT FEED THE BABIES! DO NOT FEED THE BABIES! Some of the babies will have signs that say do not feed and please be respectful of this request as some cannot eat the Burro Chow.
Normally, the feeding of wild animals is highly discouraged and met with huge fines (it’s $500 here in Las Vegas if you are caught feeding them in the wild). Recently, the Bureau of Land Management has started discouraging feeding the Oatman burros so it will force them to graze in the mountains, which is healthier and safer for both the burros and tourists.
Once the sun starts going down (and they have a belly full of pellets and veggies) they wander back into the Black Mountains for the night to graze.
For those of you traveling with your pets, it is advised that you DO NOT take your dogs anywhere near the burros as they may attack your furbaby. Keep them on a leash with a considerable distance between you and the burros.
Did you know that you can sponsor and even adopt an Oatman burro? Yes, you can! Check out the information here on the Oatman Burros Rehab and Recovery Sanctuary.
Photos and Videos
The sign above reads as follows:
Elevation 2700 feet
Oatman was founded about 1906. By 1931, the area’s mines had produced over 1.8 million ounces of gold. By the mid-1930s, the boom was over and in 1942 the last remaining mines were closed as nonessential to the war effort.
Burros first came to Oatman with early day prospectors, the animals were also used inside the mines for hauling rock, and ore, outside the mines, burros were used for hauling water and supplies. As the mines closed and people moved away, the burros were released into the surrounding hills.
The burros you meet today in Oatman, while descendants of domestic work animals, are themselves wild — they will bit and kick. Please keep a safe distance from them. Wild Burrows are protected by Federal Law from capture, injury, or harassment. Help protect these living symbols of the old west.